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Staying Safe and Sound in the UAE

Are you imagining the UAE as a destination you shouldn’t set foot in without a bodyguard? Think again! The Emirates are a rather safe country. However, particularly women, as well as non-Western and LGBT expats often struggle. There are some measures you should take to keep safe.
Desert safaris and driving outside of cities can be rather dangerous, especially when sand storms hit.
  • You should avoid the waters of the Street of Hormuz during boat trips which are subject to a long-standing dispute between the UAE and Iran.
  • Driving in the UAE can be rather dangerous due to heavy traffic and limited visibility during desert storms.
  • Desert safaris and “dune bashing” should only be booked through trustworthy operators and are not suitable for little children.
  • Although women are relatively safe in the UAE, sexual harassment is a big problem.
  • Anti-discrimination laws prohibit discrimination based on nationality, ethnicity, denomination, or religion.
  • Homosexuality is illegal in the Emirates and can be punished with jail time of up to 14 years.


Generally, the United Arab Emirates are rather safe for expats, tourists, and travelers. The crime rate is very low and both men and woman can move about in public with little difficulty. Still, there are some things to keep in mind when you move to Abu Dhabi or Dubai, or decide to travel around the country, in order to stay safe. Specifically the traffic and the heat can take a toll on inexperienced expats. You can learn more about how to stay healthy in the Emirates from our article on the topic.

Terrorism Threats and Political Disputes at UAE Borders

As a Middle Eastern country which is a prominent and active member of the anti-ISIS-coalition, the UAE could be a target of terrorist attacks. So far, this has not been the case. However, visitors and expats are encouraged to exercise a particularly high amount of caution when moving in crowds or visiting tourist hot spots.

Moreover, you should try to avoid getting involved in the long-standing dispute between the UAE and Iran concerning the street of Hormuz and the islands Abu Moussa, Greater Tumb, and Lesser Tumb. Both countries claim these islands as their own. Tourists on boat excursions to these waters might be arrested for violation of Iranian territories and imprisoned in Iran.

Heavy Traffic — Staying Safe on the Road

While roads are well-built, particularly in and around Dubai and Abu Dhabi, driving in the UAE can still be a rather dangerous undertaking. Speeding, reckless driving, and using the cell phone while driving are just as common as running a red light. In the cities, traffic can be very heavy making traffic accidents a common occurrence and a leading cause of death. Still, traffic police and cameras are omnipresent in the big cities. Keep in mind that speeding, reckless driving, and especially red light offenses can result in hefty fines and, in the worst case, even jail time.

Weather conditions can also make driving rather difficult. Particularly in the desert, drifting sands, fog, and sand storms may result in limited visibility and increase the risk of being involved in an accident. If you get in an accident in which another person is injured, you might be detained until the injured person can leave the hospital again. Accidents of which fault cannot clearly be determined can result in a lengthy process during which the people involved cannot leave the country.

Safety Measures during Desert Safaris

If careful driving is a necessity on Dubai’s and Abu Dhabi’s streets, desert safaris require even more care and safety precautions. Do not embark on such safaris on your own without an experienced guide or a vehicle suitable for such an endeavor.

However, even if you hire a driver for desert safaris or “dune bashing”, you are not necessarily in for a safe ride. Many tour operators find it more important to make money than to take the necessary precautions, such as keeping to the speed limit and ensuring that all passengers are wearing their seat belts. If you go quad biking, the company providing the vehicles should also equip you with protective gear.

Children are particularly at risk. Many tour operators let children as young as three years tag along, often without providing proper car seats or suitable seat belts. This can be really dangerous for the little ones and serious injuries are not uncommon even in minor accidents. Even though some operators have increased their safety measures since the death of a four-year-old boy in 2014, many call for a ban of dune bashing for children under the age of ten.

Expat Women: Somewhat Safe

Despite what you might have heard, the UAE is actually a rather safe place for women and even single women who move there for work might feel right at home. Violent attacks or rape are rare in the Emirates and women will find that they can comfortably go about their everyday lives there.

Still, a change of wardrobe might be inevitable: a modest attire that covers shoulders, arms, and knees is not only suitable for the office but also on other occasions and will help not to invite unwanted attention on the way home from a club, particularly in more conservative parts of the country.

Unfortunately, sexual harassment has been reported to be quite common. Women who are alone are particularly vulnerable to experiences like that. Female expats in the UAE should make sure to travel in groups, especially at night, keep their phone close-by, and use their common sense.

Religion, Denomination, Race — Discrimination in the Emirates

Although job ads asking specifically for “white” or “Western” applicants are no longer legal, discrimination remains a big problem in the Emirates. More often than not, victims keep quiet about it, as they feel like they do not have any proof and are at risk of losing their job. The majority of complaints refer to unequal pay based on the employee’s nationality. Particularly Indian and Pakistani employees often report earning less than their equally or even less qualified colleagues.

To counteract these tendencies and promote the UAE’s coexistence model, anti-discrimination laws have been introduced in 2015. These laws prohibit discrimination based on your religion, denomination, race, ethnicity, nationality, or caste. This also extends to groups, conferences, and meetings which might interfere with religious freedom or promote religious hate. Violation of these laws can lead to fines from 50,000 AED and even jail time.

Unfortunately, the anti-discrimination laws do not protect you from discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.

Dreaded Homosexuality — LGBT Discrimination in the UAE

As noted in our article on Crime and Important Laws in the UAE, all sexual interaction outside of a heterosexual marriage is considered illegal. However, there is some controversy on whether this can be translated to same-sex relationships.

Under Islamic law even consensual homosexual relationships are prohibited and are punishable by flogging or death. The UAE has replaced these Sharia penalties with jail times, fines, and — when it comes to foreigners — deportation. It is worth mentioning that the Emirati police does not treat LGBT expats with kid gloves. If you are arrested for “homosexual behavior”, you can be sentenced to up to 14 years of prison in Abu Dhabi and 10 years in Dubai.

LGBT expats have few means to protect themselves (and their partners), since the fear of homosexuality is big in the UAE. Thus, LGBT expats would do well to be discreet or avoid the Emirates altogether.


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